Non-Spoiler Review of Brandon Sanderson’s Cytonic

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Cytonic, the third novel in Brandon Sanderson’s newly named Cytoverse, officially hits shelves on November 23rd, as the adventures of Spensa Nightshade and her AI companion M-Bot continue into the unknown. Some lucky fans will be able to join Dragonsteel for their first mini-con release party in Utah, and there are currently giveaways from US-based retailers—and while we wait, we’ve put together this helpful non-spoiler review and discussion!

In covering a third installment of a series, it’s impossible to avoid spoilers for the first two books. If you need a quick rundown of past events, check out the previous spoiler articles for Skyward and Starsight. Checking in from Beta Flight is Deana Whitney, callsign: Braid, and new co-pilot Paige Vest, callsign: Blade (regular readers of the Rhythm of War reread will recognize her name)! Former co-pilot Darci Cole has transferred into a different flight and is busy with her new book launch for Target. Join us as we share some non-spoiler thoughts on Cytonic.

A quick note, before we begin: If you haven’t heard, there are now three novellas focused on Skyward team members. They tell the story of events happening while Spensa is separated from the team. The first two, Sunreach and ReDawn, are already available and the third, Evershore, will be out in December 28th. Currently, they are only available in eBook and audio formats, but a combined print edition is in the works for 2022. The stories are meant to be parallels, and don’t cover the same events. Thus readers can read them before or after Cytonic without spoilers—we won’t be discussing the novellas below, so no spoilers for those in the comments, please!

The cover description for Cytonic reads:

Now, the Superiority—the governing galactic alliance bent on dominating all human life—has started a galaxy-wide war. And Spensa’s seen the weapons they plan to use to end it: the Delvers. Ancient, mysterious alien forces that can wipe out entire planetary systems in an instant. Spensa knows that no matter how many pilots the DDF has, there is no defeating this predator.

Except that Spensa is Cytonic. She faced down a Delver and saw something eerily familiar about it. And maybe, if she’s able to figure out what she is, she could be more than just another pilot in this unfolding war. She could save the galaxy.

The only way she can discover what she really is, though, is to leave behind all she knows and enter the Nowhere. A place from which few ever return.

Coming into Cytonic, the expectation that Spensa would be going on a new journey was established well in advance. She’s on a quest for answers, for ways to help Detritus, all while coming to grips with learning that her enemies are not all monsters. Jumping right into the spoilers for Starsight, that ending was a killer—it was such a cliffhanger! The epilogue took an action-packed part five and left readers wanting more answers. We’ve all wanted book three since the minute we finished reading book two…

Braid: I was yelling at Sanderson for leaving fans hanging on such a cruel note. Envision me chanting: M-Bot will be fixed, M-Bot will be fixed. Everything else took a backseat during my first emotional reaction to the end. What was your greatest hope after Starsight?

Blade: I was crushed about M-Bot’s ship being dismantled. I know that the ship itself wasn’t M-Bot, but I was still heartbroken that Spensa was left without a ship…and that M-Bot had downloaded himself into a cleaning droid, possibly losing part of himself. That was upsetting, thinking that M-Bot would just be a shadow of his former self. But at least Spensa had something of him. When she popped back to Detritus leaving both M-Bot and Doomslug at Starsight, I was bereft. And as much as I want her home, I was glad that she went back for them. Well, and to save Starsight from the Delver.

I had great hopes for M-Bot in Cytonic and I was not disappointed. I felt a lot of nostalgia, had a lot of chuckles, and wanted to stand up and cheer a couple of times. I was also heartbroken and wanted to demand that Brandon fix things right now. Though we all must wait on the Creator for what we want.

Braid: Once I started thinking more rationally again, I started thinking about the larger implications for the continuing story. With Spensa throwing herself into the Nowhere, I just knew she would encounter a new crew. I really hoped to see the burle Gul’zah again and other Superiority rejects. After getting M-Bot back, my second priority was finding answers about the Delvers.

Blade: I admit that I wasn’t expecting anything about other characters in the Nowhere. I was expecting Spensa to immediately find a way back home, possibly through another portal like she’d found in the caverns of Detritus. Rather, that’s what I was hoping for. I really want her home—part of that jonesing was to see what was happening back on Detritus. Her being away from home just gives me anxiety.

Having the novellas helps…so go read them.

Braid: Agreed, I was missing my girl Quirk through all of Starsight. But hey, we now have the novellas, which are promising more time with Skyward Flight and the happenings on Detritus. For which I’m thankful.

Blade: The novellas are amazing, and I love knowing what the rest of Skyward flight is doing while Spensa is away. It’s also nice to get a glimpse into other points of view as we get to see events from the perspective of other members of Skyward Flight. And then some. And Janci does such an amazing job, I was really wowed by her work!

Braid: My expectations between Skyward to Starsight were so upended, I really feared to speculate too much about Cytonic. I just held onto my hopes for M-Bot. Along with a wish to see Winzik go down, but with more in-book time than Ironsides. I mean, Sanderson has grown so good at writing characters I love hating. The villains are so much more than just mustache-twirling cut-outs.

Blade: Oh, I do love to hate Winzik. He’s slimy. Just foul. And willing to wreak havoc on Starsight to gain control of the Superiority. I loathe him. Sanderson really is getting good at writing loathsome characters. The ending of Starsight was such a cliffhanger, and I had no idea what might happen in Cytonic. I had zero expectations, just hopes of Spensa going home.

Of course, my expectations weren’t realized immediately, else there would be no book 3, right? I have to say, though, that the book we got fairly blew my mind. Spensa’s experiences in Cytonic are like nothing we’ve seen to date. Gah! I just want to tell you all the things!

***

Let’s dig into some of our impressions of the story, while stepping lightly around plot points to avoid true spoilers. The book is laid out in five parts like prior Cytoverse novels, each building on the last with a typical fast-paced Sanderlanche. The overall pacing is more inconsistent in this novel; the nature of the world she’s in explains some of these pacing issues. Sanderson does a good job of answering many of Spensa’s questions.

Braid: Since the setup for Cytonic did not lead me with much hope for a quick return home. I decided to go in with an open mind about the journey inside a new setting. Playing to his strengths, Sanderson focuses on worldbuilding and character development. The Nowhere was more complicated than I expected. He added more diversity to the richness of species living in the Cytoverse. The universal translator pin introduced in Starsight got quite a workout.

I believe Spensa’s decided to take notes from Sun Tzu, particularly his advice about knowing your enemies. She’s learning about the Superiority and the Delvers in light of her new knowledge and point of view. Her moment with the one Delver at the end of Starsight was pivotal. I have wondered how the other Delvers reacted to this for the last year. It’s one of the implied promises Sanderson set up. He believes in delivering on those promises. Spensa meets characters that are an interesting mix. Yet, I hesitated when it came to getting attached to any of them after the last two books. Part of this reluctance made many of the characters read as flatter to me than in past books.

Blade: I’d often wondered about that one Delver that she sent to Starsight and then communicated with…did it take the information it had learned back to the others? Did it remain separate from them? It’s good to finally get an answer to that and wow, is it surprising. Mind just blown!

We did meet new characters, of course, which was something I was intensely curious about when Spensa entered the black sphere. I couldn’t help but wonder how many people the Superiority had tossed in there over the years and what had become of them. What we discovered was not what I had expected… at all.

Braid: I agree with that and can’t wait until the spoiler article to really dig into the answers Sanderson provided. I mean, Doomslug and her kind are cytonic! The fallout from that reveal is…a spoiler.

Blade: In Skyward, Spensa’s main goal was becoming a pilot, and restoring M-Bot was something of a side quest. In Starsight, her main goal was to steal a hyperdrive from the Superiority, and teaching her new flight how to fight was something of a side quest. In Cytonic, her main goal becomes obvious immediately, though it also seems impossible to attain, much as stealing a hyperdrive felt impossible in the last novel. The path she takes toward that goal is different from the side quests she’s done in the past, with much zigging and zagging, and multiple obstacles to overcome.

There’s action and adventure…arr, matey! There’s intrigue and a bit of spookiness happening! There is so much in this book to engage you and excite you. Taking this journey with Spensa is a roller coaster, and I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I did.

Braid: Agreed, it was one fun ride. This book provides a satisfying story without suffering too much from middle book syndrome, which we’ll dig into in more detail during the spoiler review. For now let’s sign off with some of our reactions to book moments…

No-context Reactions:

Blade:

  • Oh, that’s not disconcerting at ALL.
  • Idk how people can say Brandon can’t write funny. I think he’s pretty good at it.
  • This is a great visual, I can easily envision this in my mind. Fairly alarming, too.
  • Well, that’s just not going to work. Unacceptable.

Braid:

  • Lucy you got some splainin’ to do !!!!
  • Well, this is unexpected and unnerving.
  • There better be a fix or I will say not nice things. If not, I’m going to go full Samuel L. Jackson.
  • Idk, might be less terrifying than a zombie dinosaur…

Beta Flight signing out for now. We will be back in a few weeks with our spoiler-filled review after the Nov. 23rd release of Cytonic.

Brandon Sanderson’s Cytonic is published by Delacorte Press.
Read an excerpt here.

Paige Vest, callsign Blade, resides in New Mexico, of course. She works full-time, goes to school full-time, beta reads part-time, mods/admins 3 Stormlight-themed Facebook groups part-time, and writes part-time. She wishes sleep wasn’t necessary because there’s just too storming much to do! Links to her other writing are available in her profile.

Deana Whitney, callsign Braid, is a Sanderson Beta reader, a Doomslug fan, a historian, a cook, and an avid reader. Known as Braid_Tug on Tor, she shared some recipes in her Cosmere Cuisine articles. She added some David Bowie to her growing Cytoverse playlist.

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